“It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” ― Mother Teresa
A few years ago, when I was still afflicted with perfectionism, the quest to give the perfect (sustainable or ethically sourced if possible) gift was all-consuming.
I felt like I was wasting more time and energy on holiday gift giving than I had available. Our first Christmas with two small children and a full-time corporate job, I was too busy stressing about what to get my boss or the day care women than enjoying the weeks leading up to the holidays with our boys.
The thing about stressing over gifts is, it doesn’t mean you’re actually buying gifts. It just means you’re wasting mental energy and creating anxiety. When I finally shifted my approach to what it meant to be a more thoughtful gift giver, I realized it doesn’t have to be such a challenge.
I made a conscious decision that I wanted to slow down and enjoy the holidays. That gift giving wouldn’t hold me hostage. That everyone we know didn’t actually need another item of stuff to add their bulging toy boxes, junk drawers, or closets. And most importantly, that I wanted to feel happy – not obligated or guilty – when someone opened a gift from me.
How to Be a More Thoughtful Gift Giver
Some humans are naturally generous. Sharing with others is part of who they are – whether they have a lot or only a little to give. But if it comes naturally, does that mean generosity can’t be learned? Of course it can.
From my new perspective, becoming a more thoughtful gift giver wasn’t only about the recipients. It was about keeping myself sane enough so I didn’t actually resent my entire list of friends, family, and coworkers.
Start with Gratitude
One simple but very powerful way to increase our own generosity is to embrace gratitude. When I’m thankful for all the good in my life, I feel content and relaxed. Spending more time being intentionally thankful for what we have means less time to focus on what we feel is missing from life.
And when we realize how many blessings we already have, maybe – just maybe – we’re open to sharing more of it with others.
Cull Your Holiday Gift List
Having a list to keep us organized is smart. It certainly works for Old Saint Nick. But this year, what if we try not to get too caught up in just adding names and crossing them off?
Most of us wouldn’t feel very special thinking our name is on a long crumpled post-it note lying in a shopping cart somewhere. We’d like to know some thought went into our gift, or else what’s the point?
This may sound daunting, but if you open up the conversation about changing gift giving routines with family members and acquaintances, most of them will be appreciative.
Related: Free Printable Holiday Planner
We used to buy gifts for each of our siblings and their kids. One November my husband and his brother were on the phone talking about how much stuff all the kids had and here comes more with the holidays. My husband suggested we switch to a name draw, and everyone agreed we’d try it out with the siblings and kids, but we’d all still get gifts for my husband’s parents. We did it that year, and it was so much more fun to focus on a few people and what would make them smile.
Now, if you LOVE giving gifts to every teacher and every person who delivers a package to your door, by all means do so! There’s no reason to scale back if it brings you joy and fulfillment. The goal is to keep it meaningful and manageable.
Really Think About Your Recipient
Now that your list is more manageable, you can focus on the people themselves.
My brother and his wife typically go all out on high-end gifts… international vacations, kayaks, and every gadget Apple makes. They seriously know how to spoil each other.
So, one year as we were opening presents at my parents’ house, when I saw my sister-in-law’s gasp and look at my brother with shiny eyes, I couldn’t wait to see what he’d done this time. We were all a little surprised when she held up a Holly Hobbie Christmas plate from the year she was born. My brother told us he had found the plate on eBay for $2 and knew it would make her smile.
They have upgraded their devices several times since then, but the plate is on display every year in their kitchen.
Thoughtful giving reminds you to think about…
- What makes this person smile
- What makes their eyes light up?
- The last time you were around them, did they mention something they’d love to have?
As a more thoughtful gift giver, the message you send can be as unique as they are. It can be encouragement or fun. It can be something they truly need. Or simply and powerfully, your gift can say, “I was paying attention.”
Thoughtful Gift Ideas
If you need a little more inspiration, here are some ideas to move your mind and heart in the right direction.
And once you’ve selected those thoughtful gifts, make sure you wrap them sustainably.